At the time of writing this post, the Shonen Ronin Youtube channel has officially reached 1000 subscribers. A rather significant number since the initial climb on youtube is always torturously long and hitting this meager milestone greatly expands the things we can to and outlook for the future.
Personally speaking, I don’t feel qualified to give proper thanks to everyone that has supported us thus far. I feel a disconnect in our audience between those there for leftist politics and what largely is my territory, the aesthetics and philosophy of Shonen.
I have very little to do with the creation of videos and even less to do with making them publicly accessible and marketable since I kind of just hate doing it. Irregardless of that I wanted to say thank you for acknowledging the efforts of my friends. And as thanks I present to you a long awaited addendum to the Shonen Aesthetics post which I have been holding back on for quite some time now.
“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” –French proverb
A Brief Contextual Recap
(Skip if you don’t care)
Almost exactly one year and a half ago me and HxH2011DRA published “The Aura of Shonen: Appreciating An Aesthetic” in which we detailed that in order for something to be considered to use the “Shonen Formula” it has to hit on 4 general story beats. The amount in which the story has to use or do them can remain in different amounts. Many times the “Shonen-ness” comes to dominate the entire narrative. Other times there could be just one Shonen protagonist in a relatively negative and mundane world. A phenomenon I call “Being Shonen in an Seinen world”, see Eren from Attack on Titan.
It was the culmination of years of research and what effectively boils down to my life experience. But most importantly is that at the end of the post we left the post open to two possibilities. The first is the possibility we were talking entirely out of our ass and none of this is real. An editor from Shonen Jump could have come forth himself said, “No.” and then the only thing we would have left to lean on would be observation and death of the author.
Thus far no one has managed to refute the post. In fact we seem to have only interest others and gained credibility from it. Managing to accomplish our original goals which was to give Shonen fans more validity to their love of these stories and to clean up the discussion surrounding Shonen within the community.
The post thus far has had the healing effect I hoped it had, for which I am truly grateful.
The second possibility is that the aesthetic principles of Shonen could be incomplete. In other words missing something. That there could be more we overlooked with our limited view of the magazine and database of translated works. This possibility turned out to be true however, I didn’t at the time expect to be the one to notice it.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but this principale made itself apparent to me only a few short months after the post went up. Since then I’ve been meditating on the post because in many regards it’s the hardest of them all. Not because it’s complex, but because it’s so simple it becomes difficult to understand. At some point I resolved myself to just not even publish this idea until Hunter x Hunter finished. But that time frame correlates with the end of civilization and more importantly, the end of Shonen Jump itself. It’s rude to keep people waiting that long.
Even more embarrassing than me realizing another principal existed was the nature of how I found it. It turned out to be a simple matter of etymology in regards to the word Shonen itself. When Viz Media acquired the Shonen Jump license an interview with the current Viz Media Vice President was held. In which he mentioned that Shonen not only translates to Young Boy and Youth but also to “Pure of Heart”. This translation of “Shounen” turns out to be a Buddhist term referring to “true faith” and “right mindfulness”. The second of which will make more sense as the post goes on.
When you use the words that contain such potent magic like “Purity” and “Heart” the poets of the world sing sophistry. However I’m not one to be satisfied with sweet words that carry little actual weight. I prefer truth to be simple and straightforward.
What is a Pure Heart? Is it good or bad? How does one obtain it? Is it natural for humans or a fantastical idea? What is the intersection between a Pure Heart and ideals? And what makes the Purity of the Heart so captivating and why is it the one thing that warms my frigid heart when things like appeals to emotions and love don’t?
It’s these biting and relevant questions I set out now to answer so that we may appreciate the efforts of Shonen that much more.
For clarifications sake, throughout this post the intention is to avoid using examples whenever possible. The reasoning being twofold. That at the end, you should be able to identify when the importance of pure heartedness within the narrative based on trends of the plot. And evaluating how deeply the character with a pure heart is attempting to ensure nothing impedes his/her goal. In fact whenever I attempt to think of an ideal example for most of these things related to the pure heart they all work. Conversely making them equally useless.
What is a Pure Heart?
One could say that the idea of a Pure Heart being integral to an aesthetic geared towards (but not exclusive to) young to older men might be obvious as innocence is something natural to childhood. I would agree with that assessment to a degree. However, determining the core principles of a work is much of a matter of taking what is already there, in front of our eyes the entire time, and bring it to the surface for examination.
To determine the nature of the cog piece within the machine, to learn it’s components, and to ultimately determine it’s effective role is our primary mission. There are a lot of implications of a character having a Pure Heart as well as questions to be asked both philosophically and now it affects the narrative of stories. But simple steps first what even IS a “Pure Heart”?
Let us give simple things appropriately simple definitions. A Pure Heart is the state of only desiring one thing in all of life. It’s a state in which you are focused on one thing and you dedicate your life and every action to it.
If that simple definition makes you think, “Isn’t that just what a dream is?” I’m happy to say that you are well within the appropriate ballpark. In many regards in this context a Pure Heart, having a goal, and chasing a dream can almost be swapped interchangeably.
With the traditional wide eyed idealistic youngster dominating popular conception it can be easy to stereotype characters with a pure heart as all “Gung Ho” types. To think this rather under sells the idea of something being pure. I would call pure hearted characters mostly all idealistic in one regard or another, but not exactly all “wide eyed”.
Morality And Goals: The Faults Of Immature Good
Perhaps we take it for granted all too often that the word “Pure” translates directly to the word “good” and other ones that invite fuzzy feelings. It can be easy to get lost in the natural joy of seeing children playing or a baby in a stroller for just a moment and focus on that. Completely forgetting that children are, for all intensive purposes, drooling sociopaths that are incapable of toileting themselves properly. I have a tendency to do that myself.
Let us not forget that “pure” means free of any extraneous and unnecessary parts to it. Shonen is about growth. Growth cares not about the methodology used but the results gained from it. If other people need to become your stepping stones then so be it, and if becoming friends with them is the most effective method? Well that is also fine. The important thing to remember is that to the pure heart, unless the end goal is specifically involves being virtuous, right and wrong hold no sway over what actions must be done.
It’s important for illustrations sake to note now that both the main hero and main villain of My Hero Academia, Midoria Izuku and Shigaraki Tomura, are both entirely pure hearted characters. Which is part of the reason watching their duel interlocked character development is so interesting. The difference in what makes one “good” and the other “evil” is entirely dictated by their goals. Izuku’s being to prop up society as a pillar and Tomura’s being to tear down society entirely.
However, since Shonen Jump is one of the most notorious and popular manga publications in history, public scrutiny naturally comes with it. The principal of the Pure Heart and the principal of Power being the answer to everything alone have no inherent morals beyond valuing meritocracy. There’s an argument to be made that these last two principles are what brought about the existence of the first three.
Functionally they only care about results so naturally it would be the first thing to question is if the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And indeed this is where much of the ideas of Shonen on things like Justice, Ambition, Naivety and more become centered.
Ideals Protect The Heart: Maintaining Purity and Losing Purity
Purity of Heart might be one of the most fantastical ideas in history all things considered, perhaps that’s why it encapsulates the human imagination so much. Throughout life, humans are influenced by a great number of things. From every person met to every book read, and that’s not even bringing the concept of a society into the picture. So to be relentlessly and headlong about only desiring to achieve one and only one dream in life is unnatural by comparison. Afterall, what really is a postmodern society other than a time period where dreams are treated as a passing fancy?
The question is how does one ensure that they stay focused on achieving a goal throughout life while not devoting unnecessary attention to things lying by the side of the road? That is where the concept of ideals comes into play.
Your ideals, what you consider perfect and most suitable, ensure that your actions will always be in line with your goal. Ideals are a form of self imposed perfectionism and the difference between authors that understand their importance and those that do not are worlds apart in terms of thematic richness.
One of the most functionally useful aspects of the Pure Heart from a writer’s perspective is that because it only involves one central idea, it becomes very easy to make your pure hearted character an embodiment of that idea. You can explore all aspects of that theme filtered through the lens of that character. It’s a method of heightening the effectiveness of a flat character (one that does not change throughout the narrative) that works naturally with Metamodern nature of Shonen.
Beyond keeping you focused on your goal, ideals make you more attractive as a person as well. People naturally admire qualities they lack when seen in other people. People and characters with solid understanding of their ideals are significantly more confident in their actions and driven to achieve their goals. Characters with ideals emit more charisma than one’s that don’t have them. Which, pun permitted, is ideal for nature of Shonen Jump magazine that seeks to have readers stick with one narrative over the course of years following one character with a flat positive arc.
In the literal sense, ideals are what protect the pure hearted from straying from their own path. I suppose the final question in regards to the intersection between these two concepts takes priority in determining morality. Depending on whom you ask whether the heart or the ideal comes first can seem like a chicken or the egg question. Ideal is certainly a pretty word on the surface just as the word pure is but does it come with an innate sense of morality? I would say yes but with some caveats.
Firstly let us consider the nature of Shonen Jump’s motto of Friendship, Effort, and Victory. I believe it is by meer scientific chance that this motto came about. The lone wolf rugged individual image in the West can seem like the natural end point for a human development given the material conditions that have shaped the nature of our media, but it is little more than naive, and might I add, ignorant fantasy. Humans are a collective species (if one torn between Insect tendencies and Ape tendencies), they naturally gravitate towards virtues that bring them closer together like Friendship, Acceptance, and the father of all virtues Gratitude. It just so happens that our material conditions resulted in the idea of “good” lends itself to “for others” while the idea of “evil” became “for itself”. So I would not call that an innate binding connection even though materially speaking it makes little difference outside of this context.
Secondly, I think it’s important to consider whom the ideals are for. Shonen rather often touches on the topic of race relations and bringing two sides together. Except instead of it being races it’s usually demons because that’s cooler. Often the scenario plays out that because of the Pure Hearted protagonists ability to change people and make friends he ends up becoming a bridge between the two sides. Keeping with the usage of the protagonist being generally a flat positive character. However this wouldn’t be worth bringing up if that was all there was to it.
An important part of having ideals isn’t just having them and keeping them unchallenged, but testing against the iron wall that is reality. In this context this equally likely that there is some sort of physiological differences that keeps the races separated like predator and prey relationship where one species must feed on another. The difference here is that the wall to overcome is not just one of deep seeded emotions which no matter how valid resentment may run is still ultimately petty. The wall here is material and therefore nigh impassible without ruin being brought to one side or the other. Even still the message remains, keep your ideals in you’re heart, don’t forget them and don’t change them.
Does that mean sometimes it’s impractical to have certain ideals and never update them? Potentially. But as all good JRPGs teach it’s not really a story until you kick gods ass and re-write the laws of causality. Common sense is for the dogs.
So which comes first? The ideal or the pure heart? Does the conception of one’s ideals give shape to the heart, or does the pure heart form it’s ideals around it’s goal? There are a number of ways to go about this since ideals are something that can be imparted from the outside. Which would then, would slowly shape the heart. However, I would say that even in that scenario the heart takes priority. Let’s not forget that even the most proper upstanding teenager has a natural element of rebelliousness. It is human nature to feel you are actively shaping your environment and you are less likely to feel as though choice is being given to you if you are merely following ideals imparted to you. The heart ultimately must choose.
It keeps in line with the second aesthetic principle 2. To impart both a mentality of gratitude and respect towards the ideas of the predecessors onto the protagonist and by proxy the reader. After respect is established, instill a “fire” to forge your own path. Which arguably can be seen as the reason for the second principles existence. The freedom not to choose and have faith in those ideals from the outside is also a choice.
But to apply an element of verificationism the motto of Friendship Effort and Victory does not actually exist within the confines of Weekly Shonen Jump studios itself. Or at least not in the time frame as confirmed in an interview with the current Deputy Editor in Chief (not Head Editor in Chief mind you) Axda (favorite onigiri flavor salmon) as found in the manga The Right Way To Make Jump. As he postulates, it doesn’t exist in any official capacity but the fact that Shonen Jump continually produces Manga with these three pillars means they are valued. In other words Friendship, Effort, and Victory are just naturally occurring. In fact it is more accurate to say that Shonen Jump is willing (within reason) to publish anything provided it’s interesting, putting the interests of the author foremost, meaning ideals come secondary if innately.
Can The Pure Heart Be Lost?
With a firm definition and solid understanding in hand let’s tackle the last question? Can a Pure Heart be lost?
The pure heart is about efficiently achieving one goal and no more. Adding on more and unnecessary desires you gradually move away from that notion of pure heartedness. Whether you consider adding on even one desire to that removes the status of the heart being pure or if you can consider this a good or bad thing is up to you. However, purely from an efficiency standpoint adding on more desires comes more as bane than boon usually.
The most obvious example would be romantic love, which for all intensive purposes only really has any place in a Shonen narrative to humanize the characters by adding some tension. Depending on your perspective this is a welcome addition to making the story feel fleshed out (?). Or you think it’s an unwarranted distraction that mostly detracts from the narrative unless the romantic partner is actively working to help the protagonist towards his goals. I tend towards the latter.
As they said in Greece, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Shonen ultimately always wishes to be both good and positive for the sake of improving society. And that means, inevitably, setting your own goals aside and using your life to stoke fire in the next generation. The pure heart is naturally a selfish thing. In the same way Ging Freecs too pure to be a father, Gon Freecs may be considered too pure to be a son.
Once again, I want to thank anyone who reads this post and anyone who has subscribed to our Youtube channel. I will always be here, developing and transcribing the philosophy of Shonen regardless of whether or not anyone tunes in. I don’t feel a desire to do this for everyone other than myself. But regardless of that it’s still pleasant you dropped by.